A mysterious message from Chris Kross catapulted me into a risky mission. A chip that would provide access to Hurston accounts – a tantalizing prospect, but with unknown dangers. Between doubts and risks, I ventured into a dangerous world of deception and challenges.
…. I have no idea what you had with Ray, but he seems mighty pissed at you. And second, I’m looking for someone who knows coding. I want you to develop me a chip that will give me access to Hurston accounts, there’s something I want to add to mine.
I read the message from Chris Kross over and over again. What he wanted me to do was not impossible, but it was difficult to implement. It would have been much easier with the high-performance computers in my White Rabbit. But there was still no trace of it. Besides, I wasn’t sure if I could trust Chris. Well, he had delivered the stuff I had ordered anonymously back then, and he had proven to be very reliable. Without his cooperation, the deal would have fallen through and I would have been empty-handed. Still, the reference to Ray and Chris’s previous attempts to find out my identity made me wonder. Was the job a trap after all? Was Chris trying to collect the bounty Ray had placed on my head?
I struggled with my indecision. Were my doubts really justified? Chris hadn’t acted hostile so far. Besides, the job was a huge opportunity for me. With the chip, I would be able to delete the entries in my Hurston Dynamics account. Then I would be able to move freely again and not have to hide. Except for the bounty Ray had put on my head. But that could be taken care of somehow, too.
But first I needed a plan on how to build the chip. I would get the electronic parts at the old electronics store on Grim Hex. More difficult was to develop the software. I couldn’t do it without a powerful computer. Pondering, I walked up and down. How would I get such a computer? One like the one in my White Rabbit. One like the spaceship designers had. Suddenly I stopped. This was the straw I had been looking for. I answered Chris.
A day later, Chris picked me up at Grim Hex. He landed his Redeemer on the pad in front of the clinic. It was a bizarre picture. Against the backdrop of the old, run-down space station, the gunboat, bursting with weapons, stood in an immaculately shining, snow-white dress. It looked like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Like an attempt to conceal the menace of the Redeemer with the luxurious appearance of an Origin ship. However, this did not dispel my doubts. Was Chris a wolf in sheep’s clothing, too?
After a short flight, we were on approach to Orison. The cloud city in the atmosphere of the gas giant Crusader. The snow-white Redeemer dived into the pink clouds of the upper atmosphere. We were engulfed by unreal-looking colors that were usually only experienced in drug-fueled dreams. The deeper we penetrated into the cloud layers, the more clearly the floating platforms of the city could be seen. The seemingly weightless constructions in the clouds were a marvel of engineering.
Orison was the headquarters of the shipbuilder Crusader Industries. The centrally located spaceport was surrounded by residential platforms and shipyards. Huge barges loaded with containers shuttled between the platforms. Our interest was in the platforms containing the offices of Crusader Industries’ engineering department. However, they were far out of our sight, somewhere in the pink clouds.
From my backup mission on Orison, I knew there were computers there that I could use to develop the hacking software. I assumed that the offices had not yet been reused after the siege by the Nine Tails. To remain undetected, we were not allowed to use the official shuttle to the platforms. Our plan was to wait near the shuttle station and follow the shuttle’s route. Chris tried to fly as close to the shuttle station as possible without entering the no-fly zone. Then we waited and waited and waited. But we didn’t see a shuttle. Instead, we were told by security to leave the area.
“Now what?” Chris seemed as perplexed as I was.
“We need a plan B. If we pose as Crusader Security, maybe we’d have a chance to fly to the platform on the official shuttle. Only where are we going to get the armor?”
As if shot from a gun, Chris had an idea.
“I used to work for Crusader Security. I know where we can get armor.”
My bad premonition was more than confirmed. Chris landed directly in front of a bunker entrance. The mere idea of entering a bunker was enough to trigger a paralyzing unease in me. This feeling, coupled with the idea that Chris might be luring me into a trap, made me tremble.
“You’re not thinking of going in there, are you? I don’t like going underground.”
“No problem. We’ve got an official assignment. Nine Tails attacked the bunker. We’re supposed to help Crusader Security defend it.”
I guessed what Chris was up to.
“And if any of the security guys get hit, we take their armor. Got it. Okay. Ladies first. I’ll follow you.”
The plan was good, yet I had a really bad feeling while the freight elevator was taking us down. It was clear to me that I would hold back. Once at the bottom, Chris advanced without hesitation. I stayed under cover behind a stack of crates and called out to Chris:
“I’ll secure the exit.”
Then everything happened very quickly. Chris was like a phantom. First I saw him on the left as he disappeared behind a corner, then he suddenly reappeared on the right only to disappear again at the same moment in the clouds of steam on a footbridge under large pipes. Finally, I heard him over the radio.
“All Nine Tails down.”
Cautiously, I stepped out from behind the stack of crates and went deeper into the bunker. The floor was littered with shell casings. Between them were rifles and the lifeless bodies of Nine Tails. Crusader Security guards walked blithely through the corridors. Only there was no one on the floor from whom I could have removed the armor. Then Chris came face to face with me. Smoke was coming out of the barrel of his rifle. Puzzled, I looked at him.
“Uh, you’ll have to give the Nine Tails a chance if we’re going to capture Crusader armor.”
“I guess I was too cocky there. I’ll check on another job.”
While Chris was looking in his mobiglass for an order, I started collecting weapons and useful items. Chris seemed a little irritated by this.
“Why are you wasting time with this?”
“The weapons can be turned into money.”
“Do you need money? Wait, I’ll send you a deposit to develop the chip.”
A beep from my mobiglass signaled an incoming payment. Puzzled, I looked at the amount. Then I looked at Chris, then back at the number on the mobiglass. I couldn’t register the number of zeros at first. Chris had indeed transferred 1,000,000 credits to me. My doubts about Chris’s trustworthiness melted like a snowball in the Aberdeen heat.
After capturing two pieces of heavy armor from Crusader Security in another bunker, we flew back to Orison. Thanks to Chris’s security clearance, we were allowed to land and enter the city without inspections. I struggled to move in the heavy armor. Sweat covered my skin, my mouth was dry as dust. But the Crusader logo on my chest gave me security. I was free of all worries that someone would identify me and arrest me.
Without detour, we walked to the building with the Crusader showroom, from whose roof the shuttle took off to the construction offices. We stood out in combat gear, but looked as if we were on official business. No one approached us, no one stopped us. Not even the guards from Crusader Security.
In the lobby, we entered the elevator.
“Then let’s go up to the roof.”
“There’s no button marked roof.”
Chris sounded unsure, but pressed a button anyway. With a jerk, the elevator started moving and stopped again a few seconds later. The door opened. We stepped out of the elevator. In front of us was a 1:1 model of the cockpit section of a Crusader Hercules Starlifter. A visitor stood in front of the model and pressed a button. The model unfolded to reveal the interior.
“That’s not the roof.”
“No it’s not.”
“So what now?”
“We need a plan C.”
“And what does that look like?”
“I have no idea.”
There we stood, two idiots in heavy armor, with no idea how to proceed.